Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical
The disco music-laden show, presented by Mirvish before its Broadway debut, is campy, winning and hilarious.
Like Rock of Ages playing a few doors down on King Street, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: The Musical – presented by Mirvish in a limited engagement before it heads to Broadway in February 2011 – is basically an excuse to string together as many guilty-pleasure eighties hits as possible.
But unlike Rock of Ages, Priscilla is pure, witty, feel-good fun that has some emotional substance amidst all the sparkle. Based on the 1994 Australian movie The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (starring Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce and Terence Stamp), the story follows two plucky drag queens, Tick/Mitzi (Will Swenson) and Adam/Felicia (Nick Adams), and their older, recently widowed transsexual friend Bernadette (Tony Sheldon) on an epic journey across the Australian desert aboard a dazzling, multi-coloured bus they nickname Priscilla.
Each have a different reason for making the journey, but the heart of the story lies with Tick, whose ex-wife has invited him out to Alice Springs for a paying gig and so he can meet his seven-year-old son for the first time.
The plot “complications” in Priscilla are strictly nominal – there’s not much suspense to the question of whether their rickety bus will hold up long enough for them to make it to their performance on time. But that hardly matters.
From the moment a giant disco ball drops into the Princess of Wales Theatre you know you’re in for a good show. In between a couple dozen renditions of classic disco hits – from “I Will Survive” to “It’s Raining Men” to a whole string of Madonna – we get sequin-gowned divas dangling from the ceiling, an aria sung (or wailed) from a giant silver heeled shoe suspended over the first few rows of the audience, an array of dazzling and adorable drag-queen costumes (those creamy cupcakes looked delicious), and some spectacular, show-stopping dance numbers.
It’s hard to pick favourites, but the campy, funeral-set rendition of “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” a melancholy version of “True Colors,” and the aforementioned twirling cupcakes in “MacArthur Park” rank high – not to mention the clever way the show works in the three friends’ climactic performance in Alice Springs.
All three leads exhibit great chemistry and comedic timing, while C. David Johnson, as the mechanic who saves their bus and serves as a love interest for Bernadette, brings a welcome dose of masculinity to the show. (He also deserves credit for some great ad-libs during opening night, when a stage set refused to lower completely. “They spent a lot of money on the bus,” he quipped to the audience.)
The humour is raunchy and a tad above PG, but there’s such a sweetness to the show that it never seems too inappropriate. And even though a musical like this doesn’t need a message, there’s something a little heartwarming in the takeaway of Priscilla ideas of tolerance, acceptance, and being who you are no matter what people think abound. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert is winning, campy, and unabashedly flamboyant, and as long as you don’t mind a steady deluge of ’80s music running through your head for days, it’s a guaranteed good time at the theatre.
Priscilla, Queen of the Desertruns until Jan. 2, 2011 at the Princess of Wales Theatre. For more information, visit www.mirvish.com.